The stitching on my Two Fish piece is now complete. The only things left to do are to iron out the pleats from mounting on the stretcher bars, and having it framed.
And a close-up:
For those who wanted something to better illustrate the scale of the stitching, here’s a standard US penny on the work:
For the record, the recipient is so pleased with the thing that we’ve decided to keep it here in the house, rather than consigning it to the beach place. Eventually, after framing, it will end up in our bedroom.
I continue to make slow progress on my Fish piece. Again, I plead the heat, the general malaise it creates, my unwillingness to sit under a hot halogen work light, and a reticence to stitch with sweaty fingers. But as you can see, I’m almost done with the center area gold water swirls. Just a few “echo lines” are left to add to the group below the head of Fish #1, then I will have to advance the scroll, to get the remaining bits at the top and bottom. (Swirly lines that currently go off the edges of my stitching area have been saved until the work area is realigned, even if they go over by just a little bit.) And of course, sign the thing with my initials and the date.
I do like the way the spirals of gold in the head spots turned out.
More answers to inbox questions:
Where did you get the gold and sequins?
The #5 imitation gold thread came from the Japanese Embroidery Center, in Atlanta Georgia. The 2mm gold tone pailettes came from General Bead, in San Francisco. Both were ordered off the ‘net sight-unseen.
How are you sewing down the gold?
Standard simple couching, of two strands held together, flat and parallel (not twisted around each other). I’m using one strand of gold-tone silk, heavily waxed, taking little stitches across the gold. The stitches get closer together as curves are formed, and further apart on the straight runs, but generally don’t exceed about 5mm (3/16ths of an inch) apart.
The no-hands frame is an absolute must for this type of work. I hold the gold and bend it into a curve to match the sketched lines with my left hand, then use the right to form the affixing stitches, taking care not to pull so tightly that I deform the line. After the length is stitched down and the end cut, leaving about 3/4 of an inch on the surface, I plunge them to the back. I do this with a heavy, antique needle threaded with a loop of strong carpet thread, and lasso the ends, pulling the loop gently around the waving ends, then quickly yank them to the back of the work. After I finish an area I bundle the plunged gold ends as neatly as I can, mostly trying to keep the resulting bits small and camouflaged as much as possible. Note that on shortest line segments care must be taken when plunging NOT to end up pulling out one or both of the stitched down gold strands. Much colorful language ensues when that happens…
How will you finish this piece off?
I really don’t know. I don’t want to do a fabric scroll or hanging style finish on this one. Although that would be congruent with the subject matter, I feel it would be too cliche, and take up too much space on the beach place wall where we intend to hang it. Instead I may opt for a spare non-matted/no glass modern frame. Possibly a near-invisible thin black one. But in any case, I suspect I’ll splurge and have this one done by pros instead of my usual dinking around above my competence.
Not sure. I still have a stitch-itch, although I have a couple of projects lined up to knit once fall weather kicks in. Possibly a return to my big green sampler, now that I have a reliable stand for it. Possibly a smaller something-else.
I know there are people who want updates on the Two Fish project. Here’s progress as of last night:
Just two more count-filled areas to go – the cheek between the eye and the gills, and the far fin. The cheek fill will be relatively light, and the fin, much darker than the rest of the fish, but I haven’t picked out either one yet.
Most obviously – I couldn’t wait. Since I don’t plan to relocate the hoop before I end up taking it off altogether and moving to my flat frame, I decided to add the sequins.
As per my earlier random thoughts, I sewed down one 2mm flat gold pailette in the center of each interwoven O shape in the body fill. I attached them using one strand of well-waxed gold tone silk – three stitches per pailette. I’m very happy with the look, and only lost a few that refused to cooperate, skittering away under my chair. If I were to do this again, I’d probably make a muslin cover for a squishy rectangular sponge, and scatter the sequins on it, then use my needle tip to pierce the center hole and pick up each little circle as I needed it. Putting a bunch in a dish, then trying to fish them out one by one with large, clumsy fingers was not efficient.
For reference, the extra-tiny pailettes aren’t a big-box-crafts-store item. I found them on-line, from General Bead in San Francisco. Their 2mm stock is very limited – a vintage assortment of various sizes and colors, made in the 1980s.
I’ve also gotten a start on the heavier outlines. I’ll add the overstitched details to the fins and tail after that. For a while I thought I might render those details in ecru silk, to match the ground fabric color, but I decided that it would be jarring to do that for one fish but not the other. The pailettes are enough of a differentiator between the two. I’ll use blue for those lines, to match the fin/tail color of Fish #2.
Unusual Stitching Gadget/Tool Report
The other bit to report is a rather unorthodox method of remediating crocking – the unwanted transfer of color from the thread to the ground fabric (or the stitcher’s hands).
The deep blue floss silk I am using is an experimental item, an early try at hand-dyed indigo by my Stealth Apprentice. She shared a sample from her initial trial run with me, to see how it worked, and to get feedback to improve her product. But even though we determined that she needed to improve color-set on subsequent batches (which she has done, with excellent results), I am too frugal to let anything go to waste. So I began this project with the beta-test silk.
For the most part, I don’t mind a small amount of crocking on this project. I think it adds to the watery look of the fish. But there have been a couple of mistakes and false starts on my part, where I have had to pick out stitches done in indigo. Those corrections left substantial residue on the cloth. So… How to get rid of the deep blue smudges without harming the already-stitched work? It’s obvious that water-based solutions aren’t going to help. They’ll just float more dye off the threads.
So I hit on an improvised solution.
Yes, that’s Silly Putty. Thinking back, I remember spending lots of time pressing Silly Putty onto newspaper comics pages, to lift images that could be stretched in laughable ways. If it could attract and hold ink from newsprint, might it be able to lift the surface dusting of indigo color from my ground cloth? Maybe…
Looking over the specs for chemical composition and the on-line Materials Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for the components, it looked like the worst I’d be risking was potential deposit of oil. So I tried it on a scrap of fabric, and saw no oily residue.
I decided to go for it. Using the plastic eggshell underneath to support the fabric, I pressed the Silly Putty onto the smudged area, then quickly lifted it straight up (no scrubbing or “erasing” movements). The goal was not to let it linger on the cloth any longer than it needed to.
While this didn’t work perfectly, three or four quick blots did remove enough of the smudges to even out their tone with the rest of the surrounding area. The blotted area is the part of the back fin, the center of the back fin section closest to the tail.
Under magnification I can see no bits of Putty left in the cloth or in adjacent stitching, nor can I see any oily discoloration. Now that’s not to say that in 100 years (if this piece lasts that long) the blotted areas might not appear extra dirty or otherwise affected, but I won’t be around to do that bit of textile restoration, so for me at least, it’s a win.
Would I try the Silly Putty Solution again under similar circumstances? Probably.
Do I recommend it unconditionally? No. I caution that you carefully weigh possible risks prior to using it on a valuable piece of your own work.
Some progress on Fish #2, plus some more answers to questions that arrived after the last post.
I’ve started on the main body section, using yet another fill from Ensamplario Atlantio.
How do you know where to put the patterns?
I’m not sure whether you are asking how I know which pattern to pick, or how I place them in their designated spot, so I’ll answer both.
Remember, in the last post I answered that I pick fills on the fly, and that occasionally I pick the wrong one? Here’s an example – the first design I attempted for Fish #2’s main body section, shown just before it disappeared forever:
Yes I went back and teased out this bit that I stitched on Friday night, replacing it with the intertwined Os. I originally chose the discarded fill because I wanted something light, but I didn’t like the effect of this flat lattice as the finished bit grew. It was too static, and in a large area, would have been very boring. Plus, it would be difficult to achieve the visual offset that I used on the other side of the spine in Fish #1. So I went looking for a slightly larger yet not too dense replacement.
The intertwined Os work. But as I sat stitching over the weekend, I had an idea (warning – they are usually dangerous). Those centers of the Os? Think of how nifty they’d look and how blingy Fish #2 would be if each center was spotted with one tiny little 2mm gold spangle like this:
I’ve found some, but they come in a couple of different gold tones. I am waiting for my wave lines gold thread to arrive, then I’ll try to get as close to it as I can with the spangles. I won’t be working with that thread or the spangles until all of the blue and green bits are finished and the piece is safely mounted on my larger, flat frame. And that can’t happen until after the coming weekend because I have promised to lead a beginners’ blackwork class in Rhode Island, and I want to have my Big Green Sampler on display using my big scrolling frame.
How do I decide where in the spot to place a design? It depends. Most of the time I look at my shape and find the “meatiest” part. In a square that’s easy – it’s the exact center of the shape, but for oddly contoured areas, it’s not always the geographic center. Then I look at my chosen fill and find the bit of it I want to emphasize. I center the element of the design I want to emphasize at the “meaty” point, and work from there out to the edges of my chosen shape.
Here are a few examples:
In the first red sample, I’ve more or less centered the fill in the shape, starting with the little flower in the middle In the second, I placed the first acorn I stitched so that there would be one full, uninterrupted iteration of that motif, then completed around it according to the fill’s motif spacing. In the gears, knowing I couldn’t get an entire dragon in the shape, I tried to place at least most of one in the upper left first, knowing that the eye starts looking there. As a bonus, you can see that I tried to roughly center the circles-plus-flowers motif in the maroon gear to the dragon’s right. I started that shape’s fill with the twined edges of the interlace immediately above the gear’s center hole.
How do you get such crisp lines and corners?
First, the silk I am using is longer staple and less fuzzy than cotton floss. The red samples above are DMC cotton, and you can see the halo effect around each stitch. Second, I I also wax my threads rather aggressively – even silk. This compacts them and makes them more difficult to pierce. Since each stitch is so short on 40 count linen (20 stitches = 1 inch), loss of sheen and coverage from waxing is not a problem.
I’m using double-running, with occasional short hops in “heresy stitch” to avoid getting caught in a dead-end. Once I’m done the back of this piece will not be visible, so I am not taking pains to make it totally and completely two-sided. However, I do use double running logic for the most part, for better thread economy and to avoid possible show-through that results from long hops across the back.
As I’ve described before, I use a blunt-point needle to avoid piercing the threads of my ground cloth, and never take an over-two stitch: one unit on my chart = one stitch, at all times. While others do use a sharp to pierce the stitching thread, I find that I don’t like the look produced by piercing previous stitches: it’s often bumpy. I prefer the butted-end-to-end look I achieve with a blunt.
You know this isn’t historical blackwork, right?
Yes, I know that, and I never claimed that it was.
Blackwork is a portmanteau term that covers many, many substyles of high contrast work, often but not always done in monochrome. There are counted substyles and non-counted ones. Some are single color or limited color range works done strip-style, counted or uncounted. Some use abutting areas, each clearly outlined, and filled with various stitched treatments, occasionally but not always geometric, and not always done on the count. Some use stippling as shading either inside or outside of their motifs. Some of those rely on tonal variations to give the piece a three-dimensional feeling, and some don’t. And there’s a whole school of modern blackwork that dispenses with outlines altogether, and uses the tonal density of the patterns – sometimes sticking to a limited number of base designs with modifications, and some using a wider range of fills to achieve a range from light to dark. This last group draws inspiration from engravings and lithographs to make intricately shaded and modeled images.
What Fishies shares with historical styles are the use of heavy outlines, metallic accents, and geometric, counted fills. What it doesn’t share is subject matter – this is a Japanese-inspired, quasi-traditional composition. Also, the complexity of the fills I favor is not particularly well documented. Historical inhabited blackwork tends to simpler fills than the wildly detailed ones I often use. I do note that the body fill for Fish #1 WAS adapted from a historical source – from a sleeve shown in one of the late Elizabethan era men’s portraits, that – of course – I can’t lay hands on right now.
Happily I have no pressures to abide by covenants of historical accuracy for this work. I’m having fun. End of story.
Any other questions? Feel free to post them here as comments, and I’ll try to answer.